Junior Spotlight: Sophie Sobkowiak Opens Up About Barn Chores, Sportsmanship And Plenty Of Bloopers

Aug 27, 2020 - 2:46 PM

Shortly after 10-year-old Sophie Sobkowiak arrived home from Lexington, Kentucky, having traveled there but not competed in the USEF Pony Finals, a big, beautiful Buttons N Bows Sportsmanship trophy showed up on her doorstep. This U.S. Equestrian Federation award recognizes one junior rider who exemplifies sportsmanship, and nominations were submitted before the canceled championships were set to begin.

A rising star at Watch Hill Farm in North Salem, New York, Sophie trains with mother-daughter team Wendy Banks Pola and Nina Pola and just moved up to the regular small pony division in 2020 with her Clovermeade Brilliantly Bunny or “Mimi.” Despite a shortened show season, Sophie and Mimi had already claimed two small pony championships before showing ceased in March.

We caught up with Sophie, who hails from Ridgefield, Connecticut, to learn why she was chosen for the Buttons N Bows Sportsmanship Award.

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Sophie Sobkowiak poses with her two ponies, Never Enough Sweet Dreams (left) and Clovermeade Brilliantly Bunny. Stephanie Sprague Sobkowiak Photo

Congratulations on your Buttons N Bows Sportsmanship Award!
When my mother first told me, I couldn’t believe that out of so many people I won. And an even bigger surprise was then the trophy was on our doorstep a couple of days later.

Your trainer Wendy Banks Pola said, “Sophie never misses a chance to ask each person how his or her ride was and if she can help.  Whether a barn mate simply hit the trails on a Sunday morning or is returning from a fancy show, her enthusiasm is the same.” What makes you so enthusiastic about the sport?
You are riding a live animal with feelings, so you really have to get to know your pony because all ponies’ personalities are different. And, you and your pony both have to have your best day on the same day. It can’t just be you.

You’re known to help everyone with their barn chores, from rolling wraps to helping with baths. What’s your favorite way to help?
I love to help my friends put training braids in their horses’ manes while standing on an improvised stool [made of shaving bags].

I heard you like to cheer up your friends after tough rides by joking about your own bloopers. Tell me about one of your bloopers.
One of my bloopers was when I was riding my green pony bareback, sitting on her backwards, and she took off at a brisk walk, and I couldn’t stop her!

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One of Sophie Sobkowiak’s best weeks to date took place during the 2019 Marshall & Sterling Finals (N.Y.), where she competed with Clovermeade Brilliantly Bunny, pictured here with trainer Wendy Banks Pola. Stephanie Sprague Sobkowiak Photo

A couple of years ago you surprised your barn mates with a special banner when they went to an away show and you had to stay behind.
I got hurt and could not go to the Vermont Summer Festival. I made all of my teammates a banner with their names and their horses’ names wishing them good luck.

I heard you are especially tight with your barn’s groom, Rogelio?
In the summer when it’s really hot I bring him cold drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, and in the winter I ask my dad to go to the fancy coffee place to get him the best hot chocolate. I also help him get the ponies in from the paddock.

You have a lot of barn spirit and have gotten into costume. What was one of your favorites?
When I was 7, we got Mimi shortly before Halloween. I was so excited to do the Halloween horse show with her. My parents built an awesome spider costume with eight legs built around it. It was so much fun to wear that we did another show the next day.

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Sophie Sobkowiak and Mimi got into the Halloween spirit. Richard Killian Photo

How many ponies do you have?
Right now, I have two ponies, a small regular Clovermeade Brilliantly Bunny (Mimi) who is 14 and a small green Never Enough Sweet Dreams (Stella) who is 6. I’ve been showing the regular, Mimi for three years, and she’s very sweet, and she’s all business for sure. She loves to show. The green, Stella I’ve gotten recently. When we’re hacking her, she’s always looking around everywhere. And very aware, I would say.

Tell me about Mimi. She sounds really cute. What’s it like to ride her?
She’s pretty smooth. I started her in short stirrup. She was probably one of the most active ponies in short stirrup and fastest for sure.

How would you describe your relationship with her?
Like a team. I can feel when she wants to jump and when she doesn’t. So we have a pretty good relationship.

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Sophie Sobkowiak’s little brother Dylan got in on the Halloween act, dressing up as a peanut to go with Sophie’s mouse and Mimi’s elephant. Stephanie Sprague Sobkowiak Photo

Tell me a little bit about when you can tell she doesn’t want to jump.
She just really slows down a lot, and I can’t keep her moving.

So, is a goal to keep the same pace and rhythm?
Yeah exactly. I just have to find my rhythm, but she’s very good once she gets her rhythm.

What is the one thing your trainer tells you the most when you ride her?
Wendy often tells me to get a nice rhythm and to get on a pace to the first jump. Nina and I laugh a lot, and she’s been known to joke with me, “When in doubt leave it out.” You know, when the choice is a chip or a bit of a flyer, and it could go either way.

What’s something that would surprise people about her?
She’s very easy to do the steps in the small ponies. You rarely get her to add, and she’s more of a fancy show pony than a 2’ pony. And she loves to go, and she loves to jump, but she’s also cuddly.

What’s your favorite thing about her?
Probably her loving to jump and that she’s all business, and she’ll take anybody over any jump as long as it’s in her height range.

How would you describe her in one word?
Awesome.

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Sophie Sobkowiak and her “awesome” pony, Clovermeade Brilliantly Bunny or “Mimi.” Stephanie Sprague Sobkowiak Photo

When you first started riding her, how did it go? Was it hard to get used to each other?
No, it was pretty good from the start. She was a little bit ahead of me because she had just come down from 2’3” in Pony Finals before we had got her. So she was ahead of me, but I think that helped teach me a lot.

What’s her favorite treat?
I made these ice cubes out of apple juice with apples in them, and she really loved those.

What’s your favorite treat?
I have a sweet tooth and love ice cream especially soft serve with sour gummies on top.

What’s your favorite book?
I love to read mysteries, Nancy Drews in particular.

Do you have a favorite movie?
Dreamer”

What’s your favorite barn chore?
I love grooming and taking care of my ponies. I also love to feed all the horses because they are all whinnying and dancing around in their stall when they hear food coming.

What’s your least favorite barn chore?
I clean two ponies worth of tack, but I really don’t like to.

I’d like to ask you a USHJA Horsemanship Quiz question. Referring to a rider’s hands while jumping to allow the pony to stretch its head and neck over the jump, name a type of release.
A long crest and a short crest.

Ella Doerr, 17, from Avon, North Carolina, is a recipient of the USHJA Youth Leadership Award, the USHJA Youth Sportsmanship Award and the USHJA Foundation Gochman Family Grant. Since she was 7 she’s bought and paid for her ponies with her own earnings while keeping them at home and performing all their care. She’s brought them along from just broke to zone championships and USEF Pony Finals (Kentucky). She’s the brand ambassador for multiple companies and chairs the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Youth Group. She volunteers for charities and has managed three horse shows to raise funds for terminally ill children.

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